Name: Steven Tolleson
Born: November 1, 1983
Tolleson was selected in the fifth round of the 2005 draft by the Minnesota Twins after a successful career at the University of South Carolina, where he was teammates with current and former Oakland A's players Landon Powell and Kevin Melillo. In fact, Tolleson shared SEC tournament MVP honors with Melillo in 2004.
The son of former major league infielder Wayne Tolleson, Steven began his professional career in Rookie Ball with Elizabethton in 2005. He got off to a fast start, batting .321 with a 1028 OPS in 16 games. That effort earned him a promotion to a full-season affiliate, Beloit of the Midwest League. Tolleson found the pitcher-friendly Midwest League tougher sledding, as he batted only .176 with a 595 OPS in 31 games. On the plus side, he did maintain a solid 17:23 BB:K ratio.
Tolleson got a second chance at the Midwest League in 2006 and he fared much better. In 47 games, he hit .287 with a .390 OBP. He was promoted to High-A Fort Myers of the Florida State League midseason and he put together a solid 49 game stint in a league notorious for being tough on hitters, batting .268 with a 761 OPS. Despite the good showing with Fort Myers in 2006, Tolleson returned there in 2007 and he spent the entire season with the Miracle. In a career-high 132 games, Tolleson hit .285 with a .388 OBP and a 770 OPS.
The 2008 season proved to be a breakout season for Tolleson. Although he was limited by injury to 93 games, Tolleson made the most of his playing time, batting .300 with a .382 OBP and an 848 OPS for Double-A New Britain. After the season, Tolleson was sent to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .343 for the Phoenix Desert Dogs (the same AFL team that A's prospects played for). The Twins added Tolleson to their 40-man roster at the conclusion of the season.
Now a member of the Twins' 40-man roster, Tolleson was given an opportunity at big league spring training in 2009, but he struggled with injuries and didn't get much playing time. The Twins surprisingly sent him back to Double-A to start the 2009 regular season. He struggled the second time around with New Britain, batting only .258 with a 734 OPS in 38 games. April was particularly bad for Tolleson, as he hit only .172, but he recovered to bat .310 in May and he earned a June promotion to Triple-A Rochester. He would spend the rest of the season with Rochester, batting .270 with a 713 OPS in 92 games.
Tolleson did not receive a September call-up from the Twins and he was released earlier this month when Minnesota signed DH Jim Thome. Oakland claimed Tolleson off of waivers soon after his release.
Throughout his career, Tolleson has managed to find his way on-base, even when he was otherwise struggling with the bat. He has a career OBP of .368, nearly 100 points better than his career batting average.
Tolleson hasn't hit for much power in his career (33 homers in 1,827 at-bats), although he has played in some of the most difficult leagues for hitting in the minor leagues in the Midwest and Florida State Leagues. Tolleson has a short swing that allows him to get a longer look at pitches, but doesn't produce a lot of home run-generating backspin. Throughout his career, Tolleson has hit left-handers well, posting a .300/.409/.433 line in 503 at-bats. He has been less effective against righties, hitting .270/.354/.391 in 1,318 at-bats.
Defensively, Tolleson plays all over the field. He has spent the majority of his career at shortstop or second base, but he can also handle third base and has seen time in the outfield. He has slightly above-average footspeed, although his career stolen base percentage is a mediocre 66 percent.
A series of minor injuries have hampered Tolleson throughout his career. In addition to missing time during spring training last season with injury, Tolleson was limited to 98 games in 2006 and 93 games in 2008.
Tolleson's father Wayne parlayed defensive versatility and a decent eye at the plate into a 10 year major league career as a utilityman for the Rangers, White Sox and Yankees. If things break right for the younger Tolleson, a similar career may be in his future. Tolleson more than likely doesn't have the power or standout defensive skills to be an everyday middle infielder in the big leagues, but he does have the kind of tools to be a valuable back-up. In many ways, Tolleson profiles similarly to former A's utilityman Marco Scutaro (at least the version of Scutaro who played with the A's).
Tolleson will be making his debut in the A's organization at big league spring training later this month, although spring training will hardly be the first time many in the A's front office have seen Tolleson play. The A's have been familiar with Tolleson dating back to when he was playing for South Carolina and the organization got a close look at him in the fall of 2008 when he played for the Phoenix Desert Dogs.
"Tolleson has the advanced hitting approach and defensive versatility we were looking to add to the organization at the middle infield positions," Farhan Zaidi, A's Director of Baseball Operations, said.
"After hitting .300 in Double-A in 2008, Tolleson took a bit of a step back offensively in 2009, but we still feel he can provide solid offensive production for an infielder capable of filling in at multiple positions."
Adam Rosales will enter spring training as the favorite to be the A's back-up middle infielder for 2010, although Tolleson could challenge Rosales for that role with a standout spring. Tolleson is more likely to start the season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he should see time all over the River Cats' infield. Should injuries strike the A's infield during the season, Tolleson will be in a strong position for a midseason call-up if he puts together a solid showing in big league camp.
Prospect Profile: Steven Tolleson, UT
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